Comment: Attracting leaders will put Scotland on the world stage

It's about much more than our venue, it's about the success of the city, says Dallas. Picture: Jane Barlow.
It's about much more than our venue, it's about the success of the city, says Dallas. Picture: Jane Barlow.
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Tomorrow evening in Edinburgh, Michelle Obama will grace our venue just over a year after her husband, former US President Barack Obama, made one of his first public speeches since leaving the White House.

Together, most recently through the work of the Obama Foundation, the Obamas have been a driving force for good in education and leadership across the globe.

One of Michelle Obama’s quotes in particular made an impression when I first heard it: “Empower yourselves with a good education, then get out there and use that education to build a country worthy of your boundless promise.” Weighty words of wisdom and, perhaps, even more pertinent for our country with 2018 being Scotland’s Year of Young People.

Over the last couple of years, we at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC) have strengthened our links to educational institutions, partnering with Edinburgh Napier University to launch the UK’s first MSc in business event management. To stay ahead of the curve against global competition, we know we need to have the best people and the best facilities.

The EICC regularly competes against the likes of Singapore, Barcelona and Sydney, with each city and conference centre going the extra mile to secure large international association business. In Dubai and Hong Kong, conference centres have gone one stage further by investing heavily in training facilities to give added advantage.

Knowing what we are up against in terms of global competition, I believe we must make a similar commitment to educating and training the next wave of industry professionals in Scotland. Each year, we lose a number of international association conferences because we cannot guarantee the required number of hotel spaces for delegates, so I believe having a hotel directly linked to the conference centre, that doubles as a training facility, is the way ahead.

This kind of proposition would significantly strengthen our offering, and Edinburgh’s, when it comes to business tourism. It would also place the EICC in an even stronger position creating an additional income stream that would be reinvested in the business. So, a win-win as they say.

Edinburgh is in the midst of a heyday, some have even described it as a new kind of enlightenment. Our universities are among the world’s most highly-rated and our culture is celebrated, with visitors coming from around the globe to experience one of the mightiest cultural festivals.

To remain at the fore, like our universities and festivals, we need to invest for the future. It is about much more than our venue, of course, it’s about the success of our city and the significant economic impact these conferences bring, with business tourists spending double that of leisure. Financials aside, international association conferences are places where great minds come together to discuss the big topics of the day. They provide a platform for academia and industry to share ideas, collaborate, develop partnerships and drive progress. These events come with exacting standards, so to keep ahead of the curve the EICC undertook a significant expansion in 2013 that includes the Lennox Suite, one of the most flexible and innovative spaces at any conference centre worldwide. It put our proposition on a different level, but it’s also as important that we invest in our people, arguably more so.

It is our ambition to be not only one of the world’s most socially responsible conference centres, but also to create an environment which inspires ideas that change the world. When Michelle Obama stands tomorrow evening to address The Hunter Foundation’s gathering of business and philanthropic leaders, we can see our vision in action.

In Scotland, we are sometimes criticised for our lack of global ambition. Like the Andy Murrays or Skyscanners of the world, at the EICC lack of ambition is not in our DNA.

Marshall Dallas, chief executive at Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC).